October is American Archives Month. This post is one of a series of blog posts that Visual Communications will present of Asian Pacific Americans who have made their mark on their communities and history.
I don’t remember a point when I consciously made a decision to become a filmmaker. Both of my parents are filmmakers so I grew up knowing that Asian Americans could not only make films but could sustain themselves and a family at the same time. I never paid much attention to the films that my parents were making; it was more like the background of everyday life. For example, in the summer when I would have to go to UCLA with my dad (VC Founder Bob Nakamura), I cared way more about the apple pies in the vending machine than his lecture about story structure. So “the life of a filmmaker” was normalized for me and I never saw it as being different or an alternative career path– I just thought it was the way most people lived. I didn’t think twice about my dad having a home office and working past midnight or that most of our family trips were also location shoots or film screenings. And because my parents worked within the Japanese American/Little Tokyo community, most of the other filmmakers and artists I saw were Japanese American (JA) or Asian American. So I always connected community-based filmmaking with Asian Americans. That’s just what we did. The movies I saw in theaters or the stuff I watched on TV– that’s what white people did.
Even though I grew up with all that, I never wanted to be a filmmaker as kid. Who actually plans on doing what their parents do? The two things that inspired me to actually pick up a camera were hip-hop and activism. Hip-hop was my entry into the arts. It was the only realm for me as a kid where self-expression, creativity, and performance wasn’t cheesy or embarrassing. It was cool, and it was about establishing your own voice and it challenged you to think about your place in the world and who or what you represented. And at that time it was generation-specific, it was the one thing that you knew more about than your parents or teachers (which was why it was cool). By the time I got to UCLA in the late 90s, hip-hop was the weapon of choice for students of color in creating a culture of student organizing and activism.
As a result of my Asian American Studies classes and joining student organizations like Concerned Asian Pacific-Islander Students for Action (yes, that really was our name), my political consciousness began to develop, as did my political identity as an Asian American. It was only then that I realized the importance of my parents’ work and the stories they documented. At that same time, a lot of my friends were using hip-hop to document experiences that were ignored by the media and academia while inspiring their audiences to serve their own communities. I sucked at DJing, dancing, writing and rapping but I had access to another art form– filmmaking. That’s when I was able to combine my parents’ resources (like Visual Communications) and skill with the information I was learning both on and off campus to create films about my community that would hopefully inspire and hit others on the same level that hip-hop hit me.
Tell us how you made your mark! Did you pursue an alternative career path? Who or what were your influences or obstacles? Email us with your thoughts and photo (if you wish) at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll post it on the VC Facebook page.